Another game, another nearly performance... Somehow, Reading failed to grab that all important first win in this season's Premier League against a Newcastle side with Lady Luck on their side. The stats make for good reading though, as they show just how much we deserved the win against a plucky Magpies team. As ever, all stats are taken from EPL Index/Opta.
Strangely, another game where the opposition actually made and completed more passes than the Royals. Newcastle went 314 of 409 for a 77% completion rate. Reading, mysteriously, could only complete 230 of an attempted 348 for a 66% ratio. Now for anyone watching the game it certainly didn't feel like every third pass from a man in blue and white went wayward, but then with the crossing system (more later) and the playing between full-back and centre-back which has been a hallmark of Reading's play in recent times, perhaps a justification can be found for this seemingly low rate. Steven Taylor and Mike Williamson certainly cleared the ball into touch quite often, so a throw-in and territory analysis might show this up.
For Reading the most frequent passer was Shaun Cummings, who went 36 of 48 (75%). He and Jimmy Kebe were the only two starting players to hit 75% or more. Mikele Leigertwood (31/43) and Jem Karacan (29/42) posted pretty similar numbers, whilst Pavel Pogrebnyak (18/25) had a better rate than at West Brom last week and indeed than Noel Hunt alongside, who only managed 50% of his 22 attempts. This doesn't include his heading (again, more later).
Last week it was noticeable that Chris Gunter and Nicky Shorey were asked to push on more and support attacks, as evidenced by their passing and crossing attempts. This week it was Shorey who made the most crosses, with 6, completing 3 of them. McAnuff went 1 of 5 (an excellent drilled effort for Noel Hunt's goal), Cummings 1 of 4, and Kebe 0 of 4. It was in fact Noel Hunt who was arguably the Royals' best crosser, completing 3 of his 4 including one to set up a chance. Overall it was a slightly better rate than West Brom last week, as 11 of 32 were completed as opposed to 9 of 33.
Six corners for Reading this week after none last week at the Hawthorns, and Shorey took all of them. Just one reached a Reading player, and two were hit straight into the arms of Steve Harper. A little frustrating when the Royals were so potent at corner routines over the last few years but seeing as on average 1 in 25 is scored (with the Royals it seems so much higher!) it's not something to worry about too much. But the two things you would ask in a corner is a) beating the first man, and b) not going straight to the keeper, so hopefully Shorey will have spent a little time working on his range.
Royals rejoice! For the first time this season, Reading had more efforts on goal than the opposition. We more than outgunned the Magpies, attempting 16 shots to their 9. A more telling stat, though, is the shots on target stat. Reading had 5, scoring 2; Newcastle had just the two, but both went in. I'm not sure whether the stats include a hand-ball goal as a shot on target but I'm sure by the rules it counts, so that means they scored with their only shots on target. Normally I'd say this is the clinical nature of the Premier League, but seeing as Demba Ba's second was a basketball goal (copyright Roberto Mancini) I'll leave that cliché for now.
Noel Hunt had 3 shots with 2 on target; Pogrebnyak 2/1; Jason Roberts 2/1; Kebe 1/1. And we can't forget Jobi McAnuff, who not only assisted both Reading goals but saw his last-minute curler crash off the post. Agonizing for all Royals fans, but at least we're showing we're not afraid to have a go.
Newcastle actually outperformed Reading both in the air and on the ground. Top tackler for Newcastle was Cheick Tiote who made 4/7 tackles and won 10 of his 16 ground duels. Again for the Royals it was Jobi McAnuff who was the most impressive on the deck, winning 8 of his 13 ground duels, showing he's willing to take a man on and normally succeeds. Special praise too for Shaun Cummings - he won 3/3 tackles and 5/5 ground duels for a very impressive 100% tackle rate. The only negative was that he didn't close down Shane Ferguson for the cross for Ba's equaliser, putting a slight downer on a very impressive display.
In the air... I think it was clear to see who the main man for Reading was. Despite standing at under 6 foot, Noel Hunt actually won 9 of his 18 aerial duels for flick-ons to fellow striker Pogrebnyak. The Pog, meanwhile, only won 2 of his 15 duels. At centre-back it was another solid performance from Kaspars Gorkss and Adrian Mariappa, who won 12 of 20 combined up in the skies.
It was an effective, confident performance from McDermott's side to all eyes on the day, and the stats certainly back that up. Noel Hunt showed he could be the perfect foil for Pavel Pogrebnyak, as his aerial prowess helped shoulder the burden for the Russian. Jobi McAnuff answered the doubters with a fine performance and yet again the stats revealed that his contribution to the side is more valuable than most would think.
It's pleasing to see the shot count so much higher, especially the "on target" column. As I said last week, if you don't hit the target you can't score, and Reading created more than enough chances to win the game. As it was, only a flukey, unlucky goal could salvage a point for Newcastle, who scored with both their only "shots" on target.
As ever, we'll look to what changes Brian McDermott might make for next week... the simple answer is none. Shaun Cummings came in for Chris Gunter and gave an assured display; Noel Hunt showed exactly what he can contribute to the team; and Jimmy Kebe was no less effective than Garath McCleary in recent weeks. Jason Roberts returned late on, and the fact that he replaced Pogrebnyak and not Hunt might show that the Irishman is seen as the target man, as Roberts is not the most effective in the air. It certainly seemed a more balanced team with Karacan and Leigertwood in the middle, though Danny Guthrie can definitely still contribute in this side.
Onwards and upwards to Swansea next week - hopefully a better performance than the last time we met, at least for a bit of closure eh?